This bylined article, authored by Bozzuto founding partner John Slidell, is reprinted from the April 12, 2013 issue of the Washington Business Journal.
A lot of people in this region are talking about how to get us to act as a region, but we just keep talking. It’s time for action. We are now at a pivotal point in our local economic life cycle.
The Greater Washington metropolitan area has, for decades, enjoyed unparalleled growth and prosperity, largely fueled by a steady increase in federal government spending and procurement strategies that have created jobs within the region. Private businesses, including large corporations, have become so accustomed to the steady growth fueled by federal spending that they have neither identified nor acted upon the need for their proactive involvement in the economic development of the region.
However, according to Economy Forward, a report from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments released in September 2012, the economic underpinnings that the government provides in this region are threatened. Our region ranked 13th out of 15 in terms of growth among major metro areas from December 2010 to December 2011. Between 2010 and 2015, the share of metropolitan Washington’s gross regional product derived from federal government spending is forecast to decline by 3.5 percent.
The metro area will no longer thrive as a one-company town. The region is now in a global competition for high-skilled workers and private sector employers, and our public and private sector leaders need to work together like never before to create and implement a strategy to successfully grow the economy.
This is the new reality for the region. Leaders in Washington, from all sectors, must forge a strong and effective economic development collaboration involving government officials at all levels, private sector employers, and academic and nonprofit institutions.
The business community here is in a unique position to proactively affect industry growth and diversity. The Urban Land Institute’s core mission is convening and bringing together disparate entities to solve land use challenges. Over the past year, a group of ULI members, the Regionalism Initiative Council, has been meeting to address issues facing the region. Now, ULI is working to move the needle forward. The process ULI recommends for action is creating a strong, multisector coalition to develop a focused regional business plan for our area, with public, private, nonprofit, philanthropic and institutional stakeholders working together.
There are plenty of challenges to tackle in our region. They include the region’s transportation congestion issues, funding stability and reliability for Metro and all of our regional transit systems. We also need new infrastructure investment mechanisms that direct investment to targeted activity centers to maximize benefits and planning for adequate utility capacity to provide water, sewer services and electricity to handle the loads generated by future growth of the region. Prioritizing these challenges and creating an action plan to address them is everyone’s business.
As important as the action agenda will eventually be, forming the coalition to tackle the problems is just as important. This spring, ULI Washington has initiated an outreach process to existing organizations including the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the 2030 Group, the Chesapeake Crescent Initiative and the Federal City Council.
Early conversations indicate that these organizations are eager to move the region forward together. Individual stakeholders at the leadership level of the region’s largest employers, anchor institutions (hospitals, colleges, and universities), local elected councils and boards, local economic development departments and others are being approached currently, and ULI Washington is building a coalition that will develop a regional business plan. A coalition kickoff meeting will be scheduled for early summer to begin the process.
The bottom line is this: Right now, there is almost no one in this region who wakes up every day thinking about what the region needs to prosper in the future and no dedicated group of leaders moving a broad coalition forward in the same direction. The ULI outreach effort will catalyze regional leaders to create such a person or people and an institutional structure to back the work with financial and human resources. It doesn’t matter where the leadership rests, either in an existing organization or a new one, but there must be coordinated forward motion.
John B. Slidell is district council chair for the Urban Land Institute, Washington, and founding partner of The Bozzuto Group.